Food review: The Peach Tree, Shrewsbury – 4/5 stars
With a new chef and menu, The Peach Tree is a different place to one it once was. But that’s no bad thing, as Andy Richardson finds out . . .
For a while, The Peach Tree had ambitions to become one of Shropshire’s leading restaurants.
Its then-chef, Chris Burt – the county’s most charismatic and mercurial cook – drove standards ever higher, earned himself a well-deserved AA rosette and raised the profile of the venue so that it became the most talked about in town.
And then he left to take up a position down the road at the Mytton & Mermaid, a venue he has breathed new life into as he sets about improving standards.
The Peach Tree took time to reflect and after much thought seemed to go back to basics. And the restaurant customers visit today bears little or no resemblance with the one that Chris inhabited two years ago.
It’s changed inside – a small lounge area has been redesigned – and the menu has been completely revamped. Gone are the exciting daily specials – you’re unlikely to find Korean street food, a taste of Africa or a dish that pays homage to the latest cool dish from Japan. Instead, they do a cracking fish and chips, a decent daily pie, nice soup and other easy-on-the-palate dishes.
I guess the venue observed the general public’s appetite for down home classics and didn’t want to get left behind as Shrewsbury welcomes more and more restaurants that cater to the masses. And that’s what they do.
The absence of culinary fireworks, however, has been compensated for by a focus on detail. The Peach Tree team of 2018 is sharp, focused and precise. When I visited for a midweek supper, the evening started well and got better and better. A warm welcome greeted me at the front counter, where a helpful waitress offered me a choice of tables. A hard-working and punctilious waiter was just as efficient, bringing drinks and making sure I was enjoying my evening.
The chef now at the helm is Matt Parry, the former number two to Chris Burt who’s stepped up to the plate and fulfilled his early promise. Matt’s a good chef, solid and reliable. His food is consistently good and he goes about his business without fanfare or fuss. You get the impression he’d be capable of far, far more were he given creative rein to express himself more freely. However, that’s not to diminish or underplay his achievements. Filling Chris’s shoes was a hard job that Matt has accomplished. Yes, The Peach Tree of 2018 is a very different restaurant to the one that people once knew – but it’s reliably good and people can eat there with confidence.
I enjoyed a two-course meal when I called for a solo dinner. The venue was busy with tourists, families, couples and friends who were basking in the relaxed dining that it offers. My first course was aromatic confit duck pancakes. Served with a shiro miso hoisin dressing, cucumber and onion and toasted sesame seeds, it was a carnival of flavour and complimentary textures. The presentation was a little ostentatious – dots of shiro here, odd shapes of cucumber there making the dish look like a wonky Picasso. But the flavours were great and it made for pleasurable eating, which is the most important thing of all.
My main was even better. A minted lamb and halloumi pretzel burger was served with charred halloumi, harissa aioli, pickled red cabbage, tomato and lettuce on a toasted pretzel bun. Seasoned hand-cut chips were at the side – it was all delightful.
The chips were decent; not exceptional, but better than most. Thick, like giant’s fingers, and golden brown with plenty of crunch, they were satisfying and indulgent. The burger was even better. Served slightly underdone, so that the meat was still a little pink but charred and caramelised on the outside, it oozed fatty flavour. The pretzel was soft and delicious, the accompanying garnishes harmonious – it was a thoroughly good job that left me replete.
Service was first class throughout. The waiter who’d shown me to the table made frequent visits to ensure my expectations were being met. They were. He added to the dining experience; going the extra mile and engaging properly – rather than faking it, as so many do. He and Matt made the experience more enjoyable than I’d imagined it would be.
Shrewsbury has a highly competitive dining scene where restaurateurs have to run just to stand still. National chains compete with smaller independents, undercutting prices and flexing their financial muscles to earn a decent share of the market. Chefs play restaurant merry-go-round, like Premier League football managers, staying at a venue for a couple of years – or less – before jumping ship and landing just up the road. Restaurants aren’t easy to run or manage.
Yet The Peach Tree is doing a pretty good job. It’s not-so-new head chef has settled in and is cooking confidently and with no little skill, its front of house team are assured, poised and in control. And the venue itself remains thoroughly welcoming and warm. Owner Martin Monahan has poured years of hard work into his creation and it continues to provide good value and customer satisfaction.
I’d imagine over time it’ll become a little more adventurous once more. Though, for now, it takes on other mid-priced restaurants offering decent steaks, fish and chips, pies, pastas and other easy classics. The Peach Tree won’t win any awards and it will fall back into the slipstream of others who are more creative, take more risks and are willing to push the envelope. But from a business perspective, that might not be a backwards step. The venue is now focused on catering to a bigger audience and it does that perfectly well. It remains one of the town’s most venerable and longest lasting restaurants and it will doubtless continue to prosper.